Want to make the scientific discovery of your lifetime? It turns out that you don’t need a degree, experience or even have to leave your house. All you need is an online auction account. A doctor in the UK made the discovery of a lifetime when he bought a previously unknown insect on eBay.
Dr. Richard Harrington didn’t expect much when he bought a fossilized insect encased in amber for £20 on eBay. He thought he was just getting a tiny desk toy or a conversation starter. But after closer examination, the insect turns out to be a long extinct type of aphid that was trapped in the amber tree resin about 3 million years ago.
Identifying The Unknown Insect
Dr. Harrington is the vice-president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society and works at one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, UK. Even though he specializes in aphids, he didn’t have the expertise to identify the unknown insect himself. So he sent the fossilized insect to aphid expert Professor Ole Heie in Denmark. After examining the insect, Professor Heie confirmed that it was from a previously unknown species.
“I was interested to see what it was because I’ve worked with a team of people involved in monitoring and forecasting aphids,” Dr. Harrington said. “I looked at it with my team and we thought we could identify it down to the level of genus, but we had no idea what the species was.”
Naming The New Insect
One of the honors of making a new discovery is the opportunity to name it. Dr. Harrington’s first instinct was to name the insect after where he made the discovery, eBay.
“I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi,” said Dr. Harrington. “Unfortunately using flippant names to describe new species is rather frowned upon these days.”
Instead, Dr. Harrington ended up naming the new species after himself: Mindarus harringtoni.
Who Sold It on eBay?
Details on the eBay seller haven’t been released by Dr. Harrington. However, he did disclose that the seller was located in Lithuania. Is this the ultimate example of seller’s regret? They just sold a 3 million-year-old insect fossil for only £20.